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America Strikes Back: Attack on Afghanistan

Aired October 7, 2001 - 15:55   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: As we have been telling you, these attacks began at about 12:30 Eastern time or so. That's the official time stamp the Pentagon put on it at its briefing, mostly cruise missiles, land-based aircraft, sea-based aircraft.

Miles O'Brien on our staff has been dealing a lot with the tools in the toolbox; I heard it referred to a little earlier. Miles joins us now with a little bit more on that -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we're still trying to piece this all together, as is the military is right now, as they try to make some sort of assessment as to how effective things are. Still dark, of course, in the region and therefore they won't be able to come up with any accurate assessment until daylight falls and they're able to get some kind of reconnaissance in the region.

But, let's just take a look at a typical cruise missile kind of scenario here. Many, many cruise missiles out there in the Arabian Sea on various platforms, submarines, on destroyers, and this essentially is a flight that is well within the range of a cruise missile, a range of about 1,000 miles. It hugs the nap of the earth, if you will, so it presents a very low radar profile. Radars can't see it very well, flying subsonically with precision accuracy.

We know of targets in Kandahar and Kabul for certain, some 50 cruise missiles, some of them perhaps launched by B-52's, some of them off of those submarines off the coast, some of them we know there were B-2's in play as well.

Now Diego Garcia is a place where we know that B-52's were staged from, and this is a 2,400-mile mission one way, but that's well, of course, the range of a B-52 unrefueled. The B-52's can launch a larger version of the cruise missile, as well as dropping conventional gravity or dumb bombs if you will. Of course, we know that the U.S. military is filled with these so-called smart weapons.

Let's take a look at just satellite imagery for you. This is imagery, which was taken long ago. That's, as a matter of fact, July of the year 2000. This imagery will give you a sense of the kind of type of imagery that is used to get some sort of assessment.

Obviously, these kinds of images, this is Kandahar; we know that we have reports that the airport was a target here, as well as some of the infrastructure radar capability. These sorts of images will be compared against images that are captured once daylight breaks in the region and the military planners get a chance to pour over them.

These are three-meter resolution, which -- excuse me, one meter, which means three feet. One meter, three feet, so they can bring it down to three feet. That is in the non-classified world. The classified stuff, of course, is about three times better than that.

Let's take a look at Kabul just briefly for you and give you a sense of what they will be seeing, what they'll be looking at, a non- classified version. The airport, of course, is to the north of the city. The center of town here is where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, and the Defense Ministry, while we try to sort this all out, these would potentially be on the target list.

We're trying to get a better assessment of that as we try to piece this all together. We will piece it together as the military provides us this information. We have a lot of people on the ground who also can give us some insights on all of this.

Once again, a full assessment of how successful these raids have been, really will be several hours in the future -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, certainly until daylight.

General Clark just came over and whispered in my ear; I think a good observation to throw out for all of us now. We're talking about, in the simplest terms; we're talking about what we know. We're talking about attacks we're able to confirm in places like Kabul or Kandahar or Herat or any of these other places, any of these other cities.

But what we can't know, and don't know, and you ought not to assume that these are the only places these attacks are going on. There may in fact be, when you look at a map of Afghanistan, it is literally dotted with, littered with these terrorist training camps that are clearly targets of the American and British attack today.

How many of those have been hit, where they've been hit, we just don't know yet and we're not going to know that for some time. So, we can tell you with certainty that Kabul has been hit. We can tell you that Kandahar's been hit.

We have a report that an oil depot in Herat to the west and the north by the Iranian border was hit. We know about those because we have good reporting from there, but we can not tell you and we don't want to suggest that that's all that's going on, that in the interior of the country are many of these other places, there may well be, more than likely in fact be some missiles being dropped, attacks being made to take out some of those terrorist bases.

Christiane Amanpour is in Islamabad, the Pakistani capitol. Christiane, I know you've got some reporting here, and I have one quick question when you're done.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well we just add to that listing you just mentioned, Jalalabad as well, the other major city in Afghanistan. We heard from our sources there that a target was hit, that they had heard loud explosions, intense explosions, and that one key military source there suggested that perhaps one of those targets may have been an al Qaeda terrorist base.

We've also heard a lot from all the officials who have spoken tonight, both American and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, how two things are really the main objectives, to shift the balance of power away from the Taliban and thereby clean out these terrorist havens, and to make sure that there is no, or as little as possible, damage to the Afghan civilians and in addition to that, dropping aid and sustenance to Afghan civilians.

Nic Robertson was the last Western reporter, CNN's Nic Robertson, to be in Afghanistan basically thrown out by the Taliban three weeks ago in anticipation of these strikes.

When the U.S. and the British say that their objective is to shift the balance of power, give us a realistic assessment of the divisions within the Taliban.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly around Kandahar, and that is where the Taliban's stronghold is, they feel they're most secure and they feel stronger. Certainly when we were in Kandahar, everyone we talked to there said that they would be behind the Taliban, should they be attacked.

Now, as you move away from there, particularly to the north, particularly towards the Northern Alliance, particularly to some of the areas where there was fighting today, north of the Salang (ph) Tunnel, which is a key strategic road linking Kabul to the city Mazar (ph) in the north, there are other ethnic groups. Hazara's (ph) there. We heard earlier today were fighting with the Taliban forces, taking some villages in that area.

But essentially, the further you move away from Kandahar, the more we've been hearing rumors, reports that the Taliban essentially losing their grip on some of those key commandos in some of those areas. These first few days will be critical Christiane, what people do.

AMANPOUR: And indeed, we heard from a source inside that it was quite worrying the defections that they were reporting about a week or ten days or so ago.

Now on the humanitarian side, a four-year drought, very, very severe conditions in terms of food availability. How bad is it?

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. Towns like Herat, for example, where we've heard about an oil depot, possibly fuel depot near the airport being hit. For example, there in that city, some 200,000 people displaced by those four years of drought. They've come from the central highlands. We were up there this time last year, their fields completely barren. People said that they sold even their seeds. They didn't have any cattle left. They had been forced to move on.

And it's a similar situation around Kabul. Many displaced people completely reliant on food handouts from the World Food Program. And, it is these people that the food will need to continue to come into Afghanistan, either by road, by the mule trains that we've heard about, or by these airdrops, because if the food supplies do not come into the country, these people who completely rely on the humanitarian effort will be left at risk. And, that is a large number of people. Potentially, U.N. agencies say, some perhaps seven million people, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And just to point out to our viewers how dire the situation is, aide officials were saying even before this crisis, one woman every fifteen minutes was dying in childbirth, four children in every ten would die before they reach the age of 5. I mean, extraordinary statistics.

On another issue that we've had tonight, the so-called Osama bin Laden video news release. This is a very slick operation, a very well shot tape, clearly preparing for what happened today.

ROBERTSON: And clearly, Osama bin Laden had a very good idea where he was going to deliver that message to, the Al-Jazeera network, who in the past, they are now the only station in Kabul, and in the past they have also received other video messages from Osama bin Laden, the film of his son's wedding earlier this year, the film of his fighters, the al Qaeda fighters training in camps earlier this year. Clearly, he knew he was going to deliver this message. It was ready prepared, a very professional job as you say, and given clearly a broadcast very quickly into these events tonight -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Nic, thank you very much. And you also heard Donald Rumsfeld tonight that in direct response to a question that Osama bin Laden was not personally a target, saying that no single individual is a target necessarily, but that the whole safe haven for harboring terrorists and the terrorist networks are targets there.

Now, just to say abut what the situation is here in Pakistan, we had a demonstration of about 100 to 150 people near Islamabad, the capitol here. That quickly fizzled away. We called various places around this country. We've called up people in Peshawar and elsewhere, which is closer to the Afghanistan border. So far, reports all are quiet, although some demonstrations have been called for tomorrow.

Today, in anticipation of military action, the president of Pakistan, the government of Pakistan, arrested one of the more hard line extremist party leaders here under house arrest now, and they're clearly going to be looking very closely at the situation on the street as this proceeds now as action has been taken.

Another thing we have heard is that a statement has come out from the Pakistani government after a meeting following these air strikes tonight, saying that they regretted that the Taliban had basically not listened to their diplomatic entreaties, not come forward with the required demands of the international community, that they thought this -- they said this was now an inevitable result of that. They hope that the action would be over as quickly as possible, would stick to the stated aims of attacking military targets and that afterwards, the international community would pour money, effort and help into reconstructing it and forming a government of national reconciliation.

On another issue, we are being told by sources inside the military here that the air space tonight was used, the Pakistani air space, although official government sources won't confirm or deny that simply saying that they had made available when asked special corridors to be used in the event of a military strike -- Aaron.

BROWN: Christiane, thank you. I had a question, but you answered it. Thank you. I was concerned about or interested in Pakistani reaction, and obviously the next twelve hours. It's about 12:35 in that part of the world right now, so it's early Monday morning. There's going to be newspaper headlines. There's going to be reaction in the morning in daylight. How the Pakistanis react is obviously very important.

A part of this job to be honest is keeping an eye, literally, on all of the various players, and General Clark, I kept an eye on you and you seemed to be shaking your head at times there. So, let's give you a chance to tell me why.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, I just agree with everything that Christiane and Nic were reporting there from Pakistan in terms of the professionalism of the information effort that Osama bin Laden had prepared.

But also, I was noticing our own tape at the bottom of the shots, and I think we ought to be very clear to our viewers that the United States has said it's not attacking Afghanistan. It is attacking the Taliban, and the al Qaeda network, and we're certainly not attacking cities, but may be attacking facilities in or near those cities with very precise weaponry.

And so, I think the clarity of this is extremely important, particularly since we've seen how Osama bin Laden on his side wants to escalate the rhetoric and mischaracterize the operation.

So, I think it's very important that the clarity and nature of the American attacks be reflected in what we're saying and doing. That's what I was really shaking my head about.

BROWN: I take that as a gentle admonition. We need to be as precise in our language in some cases as these weapons are in their ability to do the function they're created to do. We talk about attacks on a city. In fact, it would be more accurate to say they are trying to hit an airport, or they are trying to hit an oil or munitions place.

Until daylight comes and until we have a chance, we in the press or the press that is still in Afghanistan has a chance to look at what's been hit, no one's going to know how successful it was, but certainly the plan, and I think this is the point you were trying to make and it's a good and fair one, is the plan is not to go after the city which implies apartment buildings or residences, neighborhoods, that sort of thing.

CLARK: Exactly. BROWN: OK. We'll all be more careful. Thank you. I now know why you were shaking your head too. We've been talking, we talked briefly about when this attack began. The Pentagon now says 12:15 Eastern daylight time. That's getting closer to our memory of it. They had said 12:30. It is not in any sense important, but we made a deal about it so we passed it along.




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